Ohad Shaked, Co-Founder & CEO at ThinkUp, Co-Founder at Thinkz
Ohad is the third generation in a family of entrepreneurs. His father was originally a dentist, who got into the tech world mid-career when his brother brought him on board to found 888 Holdings, a success that changed the face of the entire family. At first, Ohad simply joined his dad and uncle's company as a bystander, absorbing the inner workings of the company–the atmosphere, the business conversations, and everything else about this unique world. But when his father died, everything changed. He quickly became responsible for the family business; with no grace period, it all fell on his shoulders.
The delicate fabric of a family business
"As long as it was my dad running the business these were his problems. Every day, the dynamic between my uncle and father was different– one day they were fighting, and the next they were drinking coffee together. With business partners, there are always matters that can get ugly, but when the flow is strong between them it's less difficult. After my dad died, things changed– relationships changed, needs changed.” The business roller coaster continued, but this time it revolved around Ohad. At 30, he was given a lot of responsibility–legal, business, financial– a lot of things to juggle at once. But Ohad had a sort of arrogance about him; as a young guy, he thought he knew everything who thinks he knows everything - "I saw my dad sitting in the living room sometimes, watching all sorts of silly comedies, and I thought to myself ‘If he succeeded, I can too; it's not a problem, it's not difficult’. But in reality, you don’t understand the size of the responsibility and complexity behind it. Part of the reason I joined the business is because I saw my dad was getting a little tired. I don’t know where I got the audacity, but I told people that within a year or two I would be stepping in to take his place. I was rude and stupid."
Shortly before his father died, Ohad made his second investment as part of 888 worth 50 million NIS, all before the age of 30. He shared with us that he did it as if he were ordering coffee at a restaurant, it didn’t mean much to him. "Then over the years, you realize how much you don’t understand what you’re doing, how difficult things are, how complex they are - you make plans and life changes them."
He took over 12-13 companies – all with problems on the verge of closure, with stocks falling by 70%. He has no experience or knowledge of how to rehabilitate a company, but he proceeded with an inner fire saying he couldn’t let them fall on his watch.
He also noted that he understands that such things are "troubles of the rich" and that he could also sit on the sidelines and still have something to eat, but it was his personality that pushed him in and brought a lot of stress into his life as well. He has the rational side that knows what is right and does things in a calculated and logical way even though it’s scary, but on the other hand - the body responds. Abdominal pain, lack of sleep, everything floats to the surface and is reflected in some way in the body. At first, he didn’t understand the connection between the two, how you can understand something rational and yet the body pays the price of your emotions. He had to experience it himself to internalize how intertwined they are.
Selling the giant company
After his father died, the company’s stock was down, but Ohad didn’t want to just sell it and run away. Although from the age of 18 he knew that this was the ultimate goal, he first wanted the company to reach its potential. They waited for a little longer and were helped by the late Shay Ben-Yitzhak, their partner, and in the end, sold the holdings.
Ohad recounts the relief he felt when he realized that for eight years, he had put his life on hold and concentrated entirely on rescuing and selling the company. He had no room for anything else, and suddenly he had time for himself, to figure out what he wants to be and what imprint he really wants to leave. He could breathe again.
I asked Ohad what he thinks of his past self, and he shared that in retrospect, there are many nodes in his career that he would like to change– that he regrets– but in the same breath, he knows he also grew from those experiences. There was something very deceptive in his path - in an instant and without preparation he jumped from the bottom of the pyramid straight to the top–to the board and above it as a shareholder, and this shortcut was not necessarily healthy.
Many times, we all dream of shortcuts we can take to end up on the top of the pyramid – to sit comfortably having realized our dreams with the impact and power to do and create what we want. But we must not forget how important the journey to get there is. It inevitably embodies the lessons, experience, and resilience we need to stand on top and look at the landscape. Whoever we become while climbing, is the person whose place is at the top.
And Ohad felt it in his bones, that same need, to go back and rebuild himself on his own as an entrepreneur. Ohad recounts how a year ago when he was sitting with his partners in Kiryat Ono, he told them: "Having been here with you in this situation, I feel stronger than I felt ten or fifteen years ago as an investor since the foundations are more stable, it feels more right."
There’s a misconception when looking at Ohad from the outside, that things seem simple for him – but on the inside, there’s complexity and struggle. Our self-worth depends greatly on and connects to what we do, there’s no way to escape it, and the experience of failure, even against the background of past success, is challenging to digest. Ohad shares that this connection exists within successful people as well. Even great success brings with it a mental price, the size of the responsibility intensifies and there’s anxiety to maintain the same height from the understanding that from here it can only deteriorate.
No matter where we are, our sense of self-worth is something that needs to be constantly maintained – because the high-tech world brings with it many upheavals, and if we don’t have this stable foundation, we are lost.
It took Ohad a long time to bring calm back into his life and internalize it.
Turning from an investor to an entrepreneur
As someone who has the unique perspective of both parties – as an entrepreneur and as an investor– Ohad has learned which entrepreneur he wants to be. A common mistake he talks about is centralism in entrepreneurs; everything must go through them, and there’s a lack of awareness of when that should be the case and when they should move aside. This behaviour is a recipe for clashes between entrepreneurs and investors, with each thinking that the other doesn’t understand. Today, he does the opposite of what he saw – he makes sure to delegate authority and responsibility, be transparent, make sure all the information passes between everyone and knows when to take a step back.
After the sale of 888, Ohad sat down for coffee with Prof. David Passig, whom he greatly admired, and in an unplanned spark said, "Let's do something together." David was silent for a moment, leaned back and then said, "Let's do something big". During the creation process of his first startup, Thinkz, and abrasive iterations, Ohad thought ‘Why is there no digital platform that helps startups build themselves? The machine for the machine’. This thought was the birth of the second startup ThinkUp.
There are two known and clear facts about the world of startups. The first is that it is difficult to build a startup; entrepreneurs need mentoring, guidance, co-founders, validation, customers, and everything together is very complex. The second thing is, that everyone is trying to help startups. Still, there is an unmet need here - there are very few digital platforms that give value and know how to connect all the dots. Ohad wanted to make it easier for entrepreneurs, allow them to run the startup and receive guidance and help on one platform. The passion for that idea is what motivated him, and today he is a full-time ‘parent’ of ThinkUp. Together with the amazing founding team (Ron Navon, Hila Leizrovich, and Moti Ben Yehuda), they are building an innovative platform that is destined to be the place where every entrepreneur begins his startup journey, while significantly streamlining his exact schedules and connections for product development, investment, and company growth.
Despite the caution embedded in his personality, when I asked Ohad if he enjoys this current time, he replies - "I enjoy every time we have a breakthrough and solve something; it's fun. When I tell the story of our startups, my eyes spark." And as someone who sat in front of him for a fascinating conversation and heard the story of his entrepreneurship journey, I can testify firsthand that you can definitely see the spark.